The United States is the second most carbon polluting nation in the world. As a percentage, we're responsible for 14.34% of the world's CO2 emissions. The European Union is third with 9.62%, and China is first with 29.51%. Taken together, the U.S., E.U. and China are responsible for 53.47% of carbon emissions. In a world of top-down political solutions, and both of our parties in the U.S. are global and top-down oriented, if these three would come together and find a solution, we could avert one of the worst ecological crises we face. But that's not all of the story. Per capita, the five most carbon polluting nations are Qatar, Kuwait, U.A.E., Australia, and Turkmenistan. The U.S. comes in 7th on that list, China 21st, and the E.U. 24th. If climate change were only a problem of individual action, the U.S., China, and the E.U. wouldn't be the worst culprits. A third factor, capitalism itself, needs to be taken into account, since nations and individuals aren't the only parties acting to affect climate change.
This blog post is an American post. I live here, where the U.S. (with immature rhetoric) and Canada (with more flowery rhetoric) BOTH rush to destroy the planet. Specifically in the U.S., in a commonwealth in the northern Appalachian mountains. Everybody needs to begin where they are. Every thinker ought to begin in place.
Why do I say a third factor needs to be taken into account? If we look at the list of most polluting nations per capita, it quickly becomes apparent that they are oil producing nations. The way we account for the numbers for pollution is problematic. Are Qatar and Kuwait really digging all of that oil for their relatively small populations? No. From what I can find about top trade partners: Qatar exports its oil to China. Kuwait to China, the U.S. and E.U. Certainly the U.S., E.U. and China are responsible for producing oil as well. But it seems that smaller countries, esp. in the Middle East, may be victims of calculation, rather than the worst carbon polluters. On that list though is Australia is a rich, Anglophone nation. Australia's emissions are the highest on record. The Labor Party suggests it will put Australia back on track to meeting emissions goals. But again, this is a top-down solution. Will Labor Party politicians in Australia really be able to overcome the marketing challenges to putting climate change front and center?
In the U.S., the two party political system has ignored climate change. For instance, there was little to no talk of climate change in the 2016 presidential primaries. Donald Trump is an overt climate denier. Trump put a Gorsuch onto the Supreme Court, which signals that Trump intends to destroy Mother Earth at any cost. Back when Anne Gorsuch ran the EPA into the ground, kooky anti-environmentalists were the outsiders in the Republican Party. But now they are the face of the Republican Party, with its primary aim being the destruction our livable ecosystem. I have yet to see hope in the Republican Party, that doesn't heed its environmentalist roots in Teddy Roosevelt's wildlife preservation or Edmund Burke's conservation.
"History's second most enthusiastic capitalist party," the Democrats raise alarms about climate change (careful not to mention any of the other ecological crises) when it's politically useful, such as when the Republicans control the presidency and Senate and they'll not have to do anything against their corporate donors. The Democrats have long considered climate change talk a political liability. As the Sierra Club stated this past summer, "as an institution, the Democratic Party has yet to figure out how to grapple with climate change. Almost two years after the election of Donald Trump—and less than 100 days from a midterm election that could redefine the balance of power in the House of Representatives and perhaps the Senate too—the Democratic Party has yet to craft a unified message of climate action. Instead, the party as a national establishment seems to be moving backward, toward a policy that embraces a staid status quo rather than the kind of forward-thinking necessary to stop the climate crisis."
As a party, Democrats have seen ecological sustainability as opposed to economic growth. But, I have seen some hints at a different rhetoric in this time as the opposition party. Not from the center of the Democratic Party leadership, but on the periphery (e.g., Independent Bernie Sanders). But, will it last? Emily Atkin writes that climate change is an issue that is "rising in importance within the party." Party outsiders like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have put forward the idea of a New Green Deal. If the Democratic Party can become a counterweight to the Republican war on the planet, it will have to remove its anti-environmental elements. Too bad those elements are good at fundraising. One must sell the future of our ecosystem to be a good fundraiser at the dollar numbers American politics have reached.
Fifteen year old climate activist Greta Thunberg points out the problems with politicians at Katowice, "you are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children. But I don't care about being popular. I care about climate justice and a living planet. Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people, to continue making enormous amounts of money. ... It is the sufferings of the many that pay for the luxury of the few. ... We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis." In the U.S., what Thunberg rightly identifies as immaturity is on display every day on FoxNews, MSNBC, and CNN. Every moment of the Trump presidency has been an expression of immaturity. But, as I pointed out above, governments (politicians) and individuals are not the only two vested parties in climate change. Even if 90% of individuals and 90% of government officials want to fix the climate crisis, the third party, the corporations, have a vested interest in destroying the planet's long-term health for the sake of quarterly growth. FoxNews, MSNBC, and CNN are all corporate entities, and they'll play at climate rhetoric ONLY when it moves forward their corporate agenda, which includes the destruction of the planet for profit. It is the thorn inherent in capitalism form its 19th Century start. You can read capitalist pollution in Tolkein's Lord of the Rings, written in the 1930s and 40s. You can read capitalist pollution in Dickens's 1843 classic, A Christmas Carol.
Capitalism = pollution. Global capitalism = global pollution. This is because capitalism is wasteful of people and things.
Thunberg continues, "We have not come to beg world leaders to care. You have ignored us in the past, and you will ignore us again. We have run out of excuses and we are running out of time. We have come here to let you know that change is coming whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people." Of course global politicians have ignored us. When politicians don't, corporations portray them as fools. Howard Dean found that out decades ago. Ultimately, the corporate boards of FoxNews, MSNBC, and CNN are the boards of ExxonMobil, Shell, and BP. Their interests are not different, and all campaign finance comes from these boards, and all "news" comes from these boards. If an individual board member wanted to value the survival of the species or ecosystems, they would lose their job. Their job is profit at all cost. Someone will do it, if you won't. We find it odd when the corporations mess up--when their message becomes too obvious. Too scripted. For corporate media, it's a game. Who can best fool people. Who can play both sides. Which role do you want today as we play the game? For us, the people of earth, it's a matter of survival. Thunberg is following the history of many environmental activists, Thoreau, Muir, Aldo Leopold, Ivan Illich, Murray Bookchin, and Vandana Shiva, who have recognized that we need bottom-up, placed solutions. The problems have been top-down, multi-nationalist capitalist problems. The solutions must be rooted.
I suspect one way that we can heed Thunberg's message, that is, empowering the people and not the multinational corporations and their pet governments, is to do what we do every day in a way that cultivates ecological literacy. I have recommended this for music education. Ecological issues are at the core of other social issues. Bad economics and bad ecologies are intertwined. The refugee crisis is a pollution crisis, as rural farmers are moved from their homes to the cities, and later because of increased war and other violence, moved to wealthy polluting countries during extended droughts. What can you do to cultivate ecological literacy, which is a political as well as a scientific literacy, every day, right where you stand? How can ecological talk be at the center of everything we do, including our work, church and prayer, leisure, book clubs, family life, and associations? How can your job become about ecological literacy?